Among the most commonly retold Wizards anecdotes about Michael Jordan and Kwame Brown was this unsavory tale: that Jordan insulted Brown with homophobic slurs during their time as teammates, and that Jordan made him cry. The most commonly given source for the first part of that sentence was a Washington Post story by Michael Leahy that ran after the 2002 season:
Brown had become maddeningly frustrated, a kid who thought that he was being repeatedly fouled in intrasquad games. He would drive toward the basket and feel himself being bumped by a hard hip off the ball, infuriated that the referees wouldn’t blow a whistle. “That was a foul,” he finally groaned.
There was an electric silence then. Play had stopped. A wide-eyed Jordan walked toward Brown. “You [expletive] flaming [homophobic slur],” he exploded. “You don’t get a foul call on a [expletive] little touch foul, you [expletive]. Get your [expletive] back on the floor and play. I don’t want to hear that out of you again. Get your ass back and play, you [expletive].”
Brown would only say later, “It was pretty rough, but that’s Michael Jordan; you deal with it. You learn you’re a rookie and you’re not going to get calls.”
As for the tears element, that part was added — at least in the most commonly cited retelling — by Sports Illustrated.
As a leader Jordan proved more tormentor than mentor. Many Washington players got the business end of a Jordan harangue, but he designated second-year forward Kwame Brown as the whipping boy, referring to him, as reported by The Washington Post, as a “flaming [slur].” A source told SI that Jordan ritually reduced Brown to tears in front of the team. Brown, whom Jordan took with the first pick in the 2001 draft, showed flashes of brilliance, but his confidence was lacerated by a player who was once his idol. “Michael was tough,” Wizards assistant John Bach tells SI. “But that’s just who he is, attempting to make [his teammates] better.”
Well, Brown was part of SI’s NBA draft coverage on Thursday night, and he was asked specifically about these long-ago reports of tears.
“Michael has never brought me to tears,” he said. “Did he upset me a lot? Yeah. I mean, he’s a competitor.”
Then Brown went on to decry modern reporting, although this particular story originates from a completely different era of sports journalism.
“I think it’s much to do about nothing,” Brown said. “So many people want to make up stories about Michael Jordan. He could have been the greatest guy in the world to me and they still would have made up something. I watched Richard Sherman talk about the Seahawks locker room, a team that makes the playoffs every year and how they created a story about Russell Wilson not being black enough. So it’s just the media nowadays; they’re going to sell gossip. And it’s sad that it got to this point, but where are the Xs and Os? Where is the numbers at? Everyone says I can’t play, but no one has my numbers when I do play. There’s no outlet that I look at now [where] it’s not about this guy [debating] this guy, this guy talking that loud, this guy’s talking louder. Where are the numbers?”
And so Brown’s complaints — of an anecdote with origins in The Post and Sports Illustrated — wind up with a deserved attack on televised debate shows. As it turns out, the former Wizards forward recently made the same case to Hoops Hype, suggesting that media outlets have planted false stories about him to help justify NBA policies:
There was a report that Michael Jordan would make me cry in the front of the team. A guy who grew up like I grew up don’t really cry much. The report about him calling me a homophobic slur isn’t true.
The funny thing is, all the people who write this stuff were never there so that means they were either making these things up to sell papers or hearing it from someone else who was wrong or who made it up. That’s just plain old gossip, and it’s sad that media outlets would write things they have no clue about. But I guess I get it. Sometimes a lie sounds better than the truth and it sells more papers or magazines. But it’s at someone else’s expense.
I think there’s a bigger reason the media constantly put a negative spin on things involving me: I think the league wants to justify the one-and-done rule. They act like, somehow, it’s better for a kid to go to college for four months and be a one-and-done player rather than going straight to the NBA. I think they’ve made me the poster child for why players shouldn’t go straight to the NBA from high school.
As for the tears story, near as I can tell the only story in The Post involving Brown, Jordan and tears had a slightly different tone. It came from Sally Jenkins’s wondrous profile of Brown after the 2002 season, in an anecdote involving then-coach Doug Collins kicking Brown out of practice.
He sat in front of his locker trembling and crying. This is it, he thought, the league’s not for me. I’m horrible. The coach thinks I’m horrible. The whole team thinks I’m horrible. I can’t even play. Then he got on a treadmill and ran as hard he could, for almost an hour.
After a while, Jordan came into the locker room. He sat on a bench with Brown, and put his arm around him, and hugged him. “You’re going to be all right,” he said. For several minutes, he talked to Brown in soothing tones. “Doug is tough, but in a few years you’ll understand how good he is,” he said. They still believed in him, Jordan affirmed. “We put our necks out for you,” he said. “We think you have the ingredients to be a great power forward for a long, long time.”
No word from Brown on whether that anecdote is accurate.